In the last four months, Deepak Hooda has seen it all. A spat with the Baroda captain Krunal Pandya, tussle with his association, a ban, and now finally redemption. To hell and back.
This January, a day before the start of the T20 tournament Syed Mushtaq Ali, Hooda huffed away from the Baroda team bubble after a spat with the captain Krunal. He shot out a long letter to Baroda Cricket Association (BCA) but that backfired of sorts as BCA also blamed him for leaking the affair to the media. It also banned him for the rest of the season. It even reached out to his IPL franchise Punjab Kings and threatened to complain to the Indian cricket board. It’s in this context he walked up to bat in the first IPL game against Rajasthan Royals, without any competitive cricket behind him and walloped a 28-ball 64.
In the preceding months, Hooda never said much but those who trained with him say they could sense his frustration. When he was swinging his arms and hitting those powerful sixes against Rajasthan, it was more than batting, in some ways. Hooda was making a statement to those who didn’t back him.
Former India allrounder Irfan Pathan, who has been working closely with Hooda for the past few months now says he wasn’t surprised to see the whirlwind knock.
“If you want to learn to never back down then read the story of Deepak Hooda’s past few months and watch him bat tonight. Well played buddy!,” Pathan tweeted after Hooda’s performance on Monday.
Pathan explained the difference he saw in Hooda’s batting. “There is no baggage behind him, he is batting with a free mind. Earlier, his hand used to be stiff, now it’s looser, more fluid. Those loose hands help him to play better on the offside. He is getting extra time now which he didn’t have earlier. Playing late has helped him.”
The ban wouldn’t have been ideal but he threw himself into preparation for the IPL. Mornings were spent at the local police ground while evenings brought in more cricket at the Motibagh stadium in Baroda. The choice of venues too was carefully done: Black-soil and red-soil pitches. His theory, say the ones close to him, was that if IPL happened in India, certain tracks like Wankhede stadium would be played on red soil while the ones at Chidambaram stadium in Chennai and Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi would throw up black soil.
It’s learned that Hooda worked on his off-side play, finding gaps at extra cover, and against bouncers. A throw-down specialist threw at him for hours and he practised those lofted big shots that the world marvelled at in the first game.
“He has a nice wristy style which helps him play spinners very well. Those wrists help to manoeuvre his strokes. At the same time credit should go to Anil Kumble and Punjab Kings for backing Hooda and sending him at number four,” Pathan told this newspaper.
However, consistency will be the key for Hooda going ahead. In the past, Hooda was part of the Sunrisers Hyderabad but never got chances to bat high in the order. Last season, Hooda played seven games for Punjab Kings; only after the team failed to win was he picked. In five innings he batted, he scored 101 runs with a strike rate of 149 and the highest score of 71.
He has the backing from his IPL captain KL Rahul. “It was an amazing innings from Hooda, and that’s the kind of fearless batting we want to see in the IPL. We have been tentative sometimes, and it’s important for us to play fearlessly at times, so I am happy that the expectations are being understood and met. Gayle and Hooda were both good that way,” Rahul said at the post-match presentation.